What should have been the highlight of her school year may prove to be anticlimactic for Sonali Rodrigues. When her classmate James Tate made a romantic, over-the-top gesture, he made her the most famous prom belle in the nation.
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“It’s really weird; I [went] to the movies the other day and somebody asked for my autograph,” Rodrigues told Matt Lauer on TODAY Monday. “I will walk through a place and everyone starts looking at me, which I’m not used to.”
An international brouhaha fueled by social media was set off last week after Tate and two young co-conspirators sneaked onto the grounds of their Shelton, Conn., high school in the wee hours to post a message. In 12-inch-high letters outside the school entrance, it read: “SONALI RODRIGUES WILL YOU GO TO PROM WITH ME? HMU — TATE.” (For the uninitiated, HMU is text-speak for “Hit me up.”)
A flattered Rodrigues quickly said yes, but school headmaster Beth A. Smith just as quickly scotched the date. In line with longstanding school policy, Tate and his buddies were suspended from school for a day for trespassing. As if that weren’t bad enough, the same policy also dictated that any student suspended after April 1 was barred from the June 4 prom.
Tate and Rodrigues told their story of romantic woe on TODAY Thursday, and it quickly snowballed. A Facebook fan page called “Let James Tate Go to the Prom” garnered some 200,000 fans. About 100 students staged a school sit-in Friday, and the town’s mayor said he received emails from as far away as China and Australia voicing support for the star-crossed couple. Even Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy weighed in, saying that while rules were broken, “it doesn’t seem as though the punishment fits the crime.”
Though Lauer told Tate Monday he believed “you were toast” as far as getting the decision reversed last week, Smith relented Saturday morning. Saying the avalanche of publicity surrounding her decision “affected the culture of Shelton High School,” she greenlighted the Tate-Rodrigues prom pairing, saying, “I’ve decided to implement on a case-by-case basis, beginning with James Tate,” and that he and his cohorts would be given alternate punishment.
‘It’s been pretty crazy’
Tate said Monday that he was as surprised as anyone at Smith’s about-face. The teen told Lauer he met with Smith on Friday and “she told me I was handling this well, and if I needed any help for this stressful situation, that she would be willing to help me out.” But she didn’t tell him he was back on for the prom.
Yet, “On Saturday morning, I woke up to my parents on the phone and getting word that there was going to be a press conference at the school,” Tate told Lauer. “I didn’t know if we were supposed to go or not, so I just went golfing instead.”
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Tate told NBC he didn’t assume the decision would be reversed. “I thought it was dead and gone, but this is a pleasant surprise.” He told Lauer he’s willing to take whatever new sanction the school chooses to dish out for his romantic transgression.
Rodrigues told Lauer that she and Tate are bracing to be welcomed as conquering heroes in the school hallways Monday, but she doesn’t necessarily relish the attention. “I think people will be excited, [but] hopefully it will kind of die out though, because it’s been pretty crazy at school.”Video: Teen: Prom ban ‘blown out of proportion’ (on this page)
And while becoming international celebrities would seem to signal that James and Sonali are shoo-ins to be named prom king and queen, Rodrigues told Lauer she would prefer, on her big night, to fade into the woodwork “as much as I can.”
“I think we will still manage to have fun,” Tate said. “I think this has been blown completely out of proportion, but it’s cool.”
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